Canada Goose under fire in China for ‘unfair’ return policies

Society & Culture

The Canadian luxury winterwear brand is being criticized, once again, by social media users and state media.

A Canada Goose logo is seen at the company’s store in Beijing, China, December 2, 2021. Tingshu Wang/Reuters.

Less than three months after being fined in China over misleading information in advertisements, the luxury outerwear company Canada Goose has once again found itself in hot water with Chinese regulators after a customer complaint about its no-return policy made the rounds on social media. 

The problem started in October when a Shanghai woman described on Weibo her unpleasant experience shopping with the brand. The customer, only identified by her last name, Jia, said that she wanted to return a puffer jacket bought in a local store after finding that the product had an unpleasant smell, poor-quality stitching, and an incorrectly embroidered logo. 

But when she took the item, priced at 11,400 yuan ($1,787), back to the shop the day after the purchase and requested a refund, she was told that all Canada Goose products sold at its retail stores in mainland China were strictly non-refundable. 

The brand’s Chinese rule is different from its return policies in countries like the U.K. and the U.S., where all items can be returned within 30 days of purchase as long as they meet certain conditions, which include being unwashed, unworn, and with the original tags still attached. According to its global website, the company even extended its return policy for the holiday season in regions like North America and Europe, stating that it is “committed to the quality of our products and the satisfaction of our customers.”

Jia recalled that in defense of the company’s unique policy toward Chinese customers, a manager at the store cited an agreement signed by her before she made the payment, which states that the company doesn’t accept any returns “unless otherwise provided by applicable laws.” But the document was deemed invalid by legal experts, who said that the clause itself was a violation of China’s Consumer Protection Law, which stipulates that if a product bought from a business fails to meet quality standards, the consumer has the right to return it to the merchant within seven days of buying it.

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As Jia’s story spread across social media and state news outlets, Canada Goose responded to the controversy on Tuesday. In a post (in Chinese) on Weibo, the company denied that it had a non-refundable policy in place, adding that returns were always allowed when “subject to relevant laws and regulations.” But the statement didn’t work in Jia’s favor, as her renewed attempts to receive a refund from the store and contact the brand’s customer service were unsuccessful. 

Then, the authorities weighed in. On Wednesday, representatives from the China office of Canada Goose were summoned by the Shanghai Consumer Protection Committee to explain its refund policy. As reported by CCTV (in Chinese), China’s state broadcaster, the officials were dissatisfied by the company’s vagueness and its double standards in treating customers in and outside of China. To “get to the bottom of the issue,” another talk will be scheduled for next week. The exact date hasn’t been announced.

Despite its high prices, Canada Goose has become ubiquitous since it opened its first store in mainland China at the end of 2018. For Chinese customers with growing purchasing power, its jackets not only help them stay warm, but also serve as flagrant displays of wealth. A quick look at its website shows that vests can cost almost $500, parkas usually more than $1,000, and a basic beanie costs $225.

In 2020, direct sales of Canada Goose products in China climbed more than 30% compared with the previous year. Last month, Reuters reported that the winterwear maker was eyeing a strong holiday season this year, as it “benefits from surging demand for its luxury parkas in China and remains insulated from a global supply chain crunch across the sector.”

While growing Chinese interest in Canada Goose is good for the company’s bottom line, the downside has included negative attention as well. In June, the retailer’s Shanghai operation was slapped with a fine of 450,000 yuan ($70,564) by local market regulators for misleading consumers about the materials it used. Even before it made its official debut in China, the company faced a brief wave of boycotts by Chinese internet users in 2018 when anti-Canadian sentiment was on the rise due to Canada’s detention of Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟. 

At a time when Chinese shoppers increasingly make patriotic choices and react angrily to being treated differently by foreign brands, the latest controversy surrounding Canada Goose was seen by many as another example of an established Western company showing no respect for Chinese consumers while trying to make a profit in the country. Its “double standards” were described (in Chinese) by the China Consumers Association as an indication of its “arrogant and superior” attitude. On Weibo, a string of negative hashtags about the company have been trending, including “Canada Goose can’t escape the web of Chinese laws” #加拿大鹅不能飞出中国法律之网# and “Who gives Canada Goose the confidence to be arrogant?” #谁给了加拿大鹅傲慢的底气#.